2002 Salary Survey: Pharmacist shortage continues to boost wages

Wage hikes outpace increases in cost of living

Despite a continued shortage of pharmacists, many say their salaries are not competitive with industry wages.

Drug Utilization Review recently tabulated the results of its 2002 salary survey to assess the financial and workplace demographics of its readership. Of the respondents, 54% report earning less than $90,000 annually. In addition, more than half work more than 46 hours a week. More than 70% also report they are directors of pharmacy.

Pharmacists would have to earn more than $90,000 annually to be competitive with industry wages, says Carsten Evans, MS, PhD, assistant dean for professional affairs at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL. (See "What is your age?")

Pharmacists provide proactive care

"Both the knowledge and skills of the clinical pharmacists — coupled with the proactive styles of getting directly involved with patient care — are the real dollar value of pharmacy salaries as measured by the health care [business] leaders," Evans says. "Those pharmacists who can contribute this positive cash flow impact should be paid $95,000 to $100,000 to keep pace with the [industry] competitor." (See "What is Your Income?")

Pharmacist shortages continue to be reported from sources such as a staffing survey conducted earlier this year by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists in Bethesda, MD. The survey showed that vacancy rates were slightly less in 2002 (6.9%) than in 2000 (8.9%). The annual pharmacist turnover rate was reported at 8.5%, less than the typical industry benchmark of 12%.

Perceptions were that the experienced front-line pharmacists continue to be the most difficult to find (93%), similar to 2000 results (94%).

Perceptions also indicated that manager positions were more difficult to fill than in 2000 (74% perceive a severe shortage, compared to 67% in 2000).

Compared to the 2000 DUR salary survey, the average salary for pharmacists seems to be following the latest automatic cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), as reported by the Social Security Administration (SSA). This year, the SSA calculated the COLA to be 2.6%. COLAs prevent inflation from eroding Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits. (To learn how COLAs are calculated, go to www.ssa.gov/OACT/COLA/COLA.sum.html.)

Plurality of respondents earn $80k-$90k

In the 2000 survey, the majority of the respondents reported earning a salary of $75,000 to $85,000. In 2002, more respondents (30%) report a salary in the $80,000 to $89,999 range than in any other salary range.

In comparison, median household income (the point at which half of households have higher income, and half have lower) fell 2.2% in inflation-adjusted terms in 2001, the first significant income decline since the last recession in 1990-91, according to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC. The $934 annual loss sent household income down to about its 1998 level, reversing some of the gains made in the latter 1990s, when the robust economy was generating persistent income growth for most families.

In the 2002 survey, about 30% of respondents say their salary increased in the range of the latest COLA, from 1% to 3%. Thirty-five percent, however, had an increase in the 4% to 6% range, 11% in the 7% to 10% range, and 8% in the 11% to 15% range. (Three percent reported no change in salary at all.) (See "How Has Your Salary Changed?")

Evans is discouraged by the salary increases reported by the survey. "You don’t address serious shortage needs by increasing salaries 6% a year. You lose the best pharmacists that way, such as to industry liaisons, at the $90,000 to $95,000 mark."

Using modal answers to create a composite picture of a DUR pharmacist, the average respondent is a man in his late 40s who has been working in a 101- to 200-bed hospital for more than 20 years. He earns $80,000 to $89,999 a year and works 46 to 50 hours a week.

Most respondents work long hours

Sixty-two percent of the respondents work 46 hours or more a week. This is not unusual, says Peggy G. Kuehl, PharmD, FCCP, BCPS, director of education and member services for the American College of Clinical Pharmacy in Kansas City, MO. "Health professionals in general should be focused on what is best for their patients, which does not usually fit a 40-hour work week."

Most respondents also report they work in a hospital. Fifty percent work in a medium-sized community, and 62% work for a nonprofit. Respondents almost evenly represent different regions of the country.

The survey also indicates that many pharmacists are content with having a bachelor’s degree, rather than pursuing a PharmD. In the 2000 survey, 27% reported having a PharmD degree. In 2002, the numbers increase slightly to 32%. This is similar to the results from a 2001 survey published by Drug Topics magazine. The vast majority of those respondents (89%) had a BS degree, but only 5% of those pharmacists planned to pursue a PharmD. Eighty percent rejected the idea of heading back to pharmacy school.

Evans says he wonders why many pharmacists don’t want to pursue their PharmD.

"The job opportunities for PharmDs are numerous — period, no contest," he says. "The opportunities for BS pharmacists to become PharmD are numerous. If 80% of the survey stated they are content to not grow with the professions’ needs, then they will probably find themselves competing with automation and technicians on the budget lines of administrators."

Evans has found that pharmacists who are content with the way things are do not tend to tabulate their financial contribution within their own health care systems.

Licensure laws protect status quo

"State licensure requirements currently protect pharmacists who are content with status quo," he says. "If somehow the laws were to change because of the never-ending shortage of pharmacists, I don’t think there would be an employer in the country who would keep content pharmacists if they could use the financially beneficial alternatives described above."

Each pharmacist must decide what is important to him or her, Kuehl says. "For some, it is the familiarity of working in the same place. For others, it is availability of opportunities to develop and advance their clinical skills. Some desire a convenient work schedule or a work location that is near where they live. Still others are focused on financial aspects or benefits."

Once pharmacists make that decision, they should actively seek the position that best fits with their priorities, she continues. "They need to be ready to speak up regarding their desires, to place them in writing as part of an employment agreement, and to relentlessly pursue them. They need to be willing to change positions, move, or do whatever it takes to satisfy their work goals. Of course, these goals must be balanced by the needs of their family and their personal lives."

The time is ideal for those who are seeking opportunities to develop and advance their clinical skills, she says. "If a current employer does not facilitate their development, there are many positions open with other employers in which advanced practice opportunities and related skill development do exist." (See "What is Your Community Setting?")